Cooley Inns of Court hosts Barry Siegel --Pulitzer Prize Winning Author

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By Roberta M. Gubbins

Legal News

The atrium of the Hall of Justice in Lansing was the scene of good conversation and great food on the evening of June 29th when the Thomas M. Cooley Chapter of the Inns of Court hosted a reception for Barry Siegel, 2002 Pulitzer Prize winning author.

Judges, lawyers, law students, and law professors mingled, talked, and enjoyed the food before adjourning to the courtroom of the Michigan Supreme Court to listen to Siegel discuss his latest book, Claim of Privilege: A Mysterious Plane Crash, A Landmark Supreme Court Case, and the Rise of State Secrets.

Siegel said that the story began on October 6, 1948, the dawn of the Cold War, when a U.S. Air Force B-29 Superfortress fell from the sky over Waycross, Georgia, killing, among others, three civilian engineers, aboard the doomed B-29 to test secret navigational equipment.

When their wives sued in June 1949, the Air Force refused to hand over its accident report and witness statements, claiming the documents contained classified information that--given Cold War dangers--would threaten national security. The widows continued to fight, their case finally reaching the Supreme Court. In March 1953, the Court sided with the Air Force in U.S. v Reynolds. This landmark decision formally recognized the state secrets privilege--a privilege that enables federal agencies to conceal conduct, withhold documents and block civil litigation in the name of national security.

Over the next fifty years, the families of those who died in the crash never stopped wondering what had happened in that B-29. Then, Siegel explained, in 2000, came their stunning discovery: The documents that three widows had vainly sought half a century before were now declassified and available. They ordered a set and began to read. What they read shocked and dismayed them. They determined to take on the government once more--and to ask the Supreme Court to remedy its own fifty-year-old error. The Supreme Court declined to hear their claim. The decision in Reynolds stands.

Thomas M. Cooley Law School sponsors an American Inn of Court. Over 300 Inns of Court have been established in legal communities throughout the United States. Thomas M. Cooley Law School American Inn of Court meets at the law school monthly.

The mission of the American Inns of Court is to sponsor excellence, professionalism, ethics, ability, and legal skills. We get together once a month to break bread and discuss issues and share stories. The Cooley Inns of Court emphasizes mentoring in trying to fulfill the mission of the American Inns of Court.

Siegel is the author of five previous books and winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. Formerly a national correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, he now directs the literary journalism program at the University of California, Irvine, where he is a professor of English. He lives in Los Angeles.

Published: Thu, Jul 22, 2010